A few weeks ago I went down to Christchurch to work over a weekend. I am a very poor example of a Kiwi, as I had never been to the South Island before this. Born and bred New Zealanders grow up in this far-from-big country, where our Australasian relative, Australia, is known as ‘across the ditch’ some 1,500 miles away. For us, a group of islands, you don’t just drive to another country to spend the weekend. When Kiwis travel, they tend to travel – if you want to go anywhere foreign you have no choice but to sit on a plane for hours on end. Thus, venturing to the other main NZ island is the easiest thing to do while still exciting enough to call it a holiday or adventure. That is if you already live in the North Island; from what I can tell, journeying from the South Island up here isn’t too exciting.
Heading to the South Island for a mere weekend was not the way I would have chosen to make my first trip, but to be honest I was working most of the time so didn’t get to see much anyway. The South Island is gorgeous. My sister and her partner did a month-long roadtrip last summer and came back with some wonderful stories and photos. I think that’s how I would like to do it; a self-directed tour with enough time to spend seeing and exploring everything you want.
For those who don’t know, the city of Christchurch was hit by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in February 2011. Buildings were destroyed, homes were wrecked, over a hundred lives lost. In a few moments, New Zealand and our mentality was changed forever. Just over two years on, the last morning I was in Christchurch we spent a few minutes walking around the central city – the ‘red zone’ – the most central area affected by the 2011 quake. Before the earthquake, the area had been home to one of the most beautiful cathedrals, was a hugely popular business district and housed cafes, restaurants, bars, clubs and retail outlets. Now, as I understand, it is a mere portion of its former self. Walking around the eerily quiet town centre, I find it hard to imagine the place being bustling with people and activity. There are still stores, markets and cafes, but everywhere you look there is a sense of emptiness, and of course the constant construction of a city rebuilding.
But it is still beautiful! It is colourful. Residents have taken what was left and transformed it into a hopeful testament of strength. The main messages I took from the short walk around the red zone was the positivity people still manage to draw to the surface even during times of extreme hardship. The Christchurch community is there for one another. I think I would have understood more if I had seen the same place before the 2011 quake. To those who knew it before, Christchurch would carry a much more powerful message. But for a New Zealander who had never walked through those streets before, it made me see just how resilient we can be, and it made me proud to be a kiwi.